Pride and Pregnancy

Pride and Pregnancy

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good sense must not mix business with passion. 

Like that will keep Tom Yellow Bird from pursuing the woman who shocked his senses at first sight. Yes, the wealthy FBI special agent's job is to work a case involving the Honorable Caroline Jennings. It is his duty to protect the beautiful judge. Yet nothing stops him from acting on the attraction between them. And once he discovers Caroline is pregnant…any good sense he's ever had completely vanishes.

But when a secret Caroline is keeping is finally revealed, will Tom's pride become his ultimate undoing?

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Lawyers in Love: Book 4
April 2017 from Harlequin Desire
ISBN-10: 0373838387 ♦ ISBN-13: 978-0373838387

 

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Excerpt

Sometimes, Tom Yellow Bird thought, the universe had a sense of humor.

What other explanation could there be when, the very morning he was scheduled to testify in the court of the Honorable Caroline Jennings, he had received an email from his friend James Carlson, informing him that the new judge, one Honorable Caroline Jennings, had received a suspicious bouquet of flowers and was concerned it might be connected to their ongoing investigation into judicial corruption in and around Pierre, South Dakota?

It would be funny if the situation weren’t so serious, he thought as he took a seat near the back of the courtroom. This trial was for bank robbery, and Tom, operating in his capacity as an FBI agent, had tracked down the perpetrator and arrested him. The robber had had the bank bags in his trunk and marked bills in his wallet. A cut-and-dried case.

“All rise,” the bailiff intoned as the door at the back of the courtroom opened. “The court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, criminal division, is now in session, the Honorable Caroline Jennings presiding.”

Tom had heard it all before, hundreds of times. He rose, keeping his attention focused on the figure clad in black that emerged. Another day, another judge. Hopefully she wasn’t easily bought.

“Be seated,” Judge Jennings said. The courtroom was full so it wasn’t until other people took their seats as she mounted the bench that Tom got his first good look at her.

Whoa.

He blinked and then blinked again. He had expected a woman—the name Caroline was a giveaway—but he hadn’t expected her. He couldn’t stop staring.

She took her seat and made eye contact across the room with him, and time stopped. Everything stopped. His breath, his pulse—everything came to a screeching halt as he stared at the Honorable Caroline Jennings.

He’d never seen her before—he knew that for certain because he’d remember her. He’d remember this pull. Even at this distance, he thought he saw her cheeks color, a delicate blush. Did she feel it, too?

Then she arched an eyebrow in what was a clear challenge. Crap. He was still standing, gawking like an idiot, while the rest of the court waited. Leland cracked a huge smile, and the court reporter looked annoyed. The rest of the courtroom was starting to crane their necks so they could see the delay.

So he took his seat and tried to get his brain to work again. Caroline Jennings was the judge on this case and she was his assignment from Carlson—nothing more. Any attraction he might feel for her was irrelevant. He had testimony to give and a corruption case to solve, and the job always came first.

Carlson’s email had come late this morning, so Tom hadn’t had time to do his research. That was the only reason Judge Jennings had caught him off guard.

Because Judge Jennings was at least twenty years younger than he had anticipated. Everyone else who had sat on that bench had tended to be white, male and well north of fifty years old.

Maybe that was why she seemed so young, although she was no teenager. She was probably in her thirties, Tom guessed. She had light brown hair that was pulled back into a low ponytail—but it wasn’t severely scraped away from her face. Instead, her hair looked like it had a natural wave and she let it frame her features, softening the lines of her sharp cheekbones. She wore a simple pair of stud earrings—diamonds or reasonable fakes, he noticed when she turned her head and they caught the light. Her makeup was understated and professional, and she wore a lace collar on top of her black robe.

She was, he realized, beautiful. Which was an interesting observation on his part.

He had no problems noting the physical beauty of men or women. For Tom, the last ten years had been one long observation of the human condition. Looking at an attractive person was like studying fine art. Even if a woman’s physical attributes didn’t move him, he could still appreciate her beauty.

But his visceral reaction to a woman in shapeless judge’s robes was not some cerebral observation of conventional beauty. It was a punch to the gut. When was the last time he’d felt that unmistakable spark?

Well, he knew the answer to that. But he wouldn’t let thoughts of Stephanie break free of the box in which he kept them locked up tight. He wouldn’t think about it now. Maybe not ever.

He sat back and did what he did best—he watched and waited. Judge Caroline Jennings ran an efficient courtroom. When Lasky, the defense lawyer, started to grandstand, she cut him off. She wasn’t confrontational, but she wasn’t cowed by anyone.

As he waited for his name to be called, Tom mentally ran back through the email Carlson had sent him. Caroline Jennings was an outsider, appointed to fill the seat on the bench left vacant after Tom had arrested the last judge.

She was from Minneapolis—which was a hell of a long way from South Dakota. In theory, she had no connection with local politics—or lobbyists. That didn’t mean she was clean. Whoever was pulling the strings in the state would be interested in making friends with the new judge.

Once, Tom would’ve been encouraged by the fact that she had already contacted Carlson about an unusual flower delivery. Surely, the reasoning went, if she was already willing to identify such gifts as suspicious, she was an honest person.

Tom wasn’t that naive anymore. He didn’t know who was buying off judges, although he had a few guesses. He couldn’t prove his suspicions one way or the other. But he did know that whatever group—or groups—was rigging the courts in his home state, they played deep. He wouldn’t put it past anyone in this scenario to offer up a beautiful, fresh-faced young judge as a mole—or a distraction.

“The prosecution calls FBI Special Agent Thomas Yellow Bird to the stand.”

Tom snapped to attention, standing and straightening his tie. He should’ve been paying more attention to the trial at hand than musing about the new judge. The prosecutor had warned him that this particular defense lawyer liked to put members of law enforcement on the spot.

As he moved to the front of the room, he could feel Judge Jennings’s gaze upon him. He didn’t allow himself to look back. He kept his meanest gaze trained on the accused, enjoying the way the moron shrank back behind his lawyer. It didn’t matter how intriguing—yes, that was the right word. It didn’t matter how intriguing Judge Caroline Jennings was—Tom had to see justice served on the man who’d pulled a gun on a bank teller and made off with seven thousand dollars and change.

All the same, Tom wanted to look at her. Would she still have that challenge on her face? Or would he see suspicion? He was used to that. He’d been called inscrutable on more than one occasion—and that was by people who knew him. Tom had a hell of a poker face, which was an asset in his line of work. People couldn’t figure him out, and they chose to interpret their confusion as distrust.

Or would he see something else in her eyes—the same pull he’d felt when she’d walked into this courtroom? Would she still have that delicate blush?

Smith, the prosecutor, caught Tom’s eye and gave him a look. Right. Tom had a job to do before he dug into the mystery that was Caroline Jennings.

Leland swore Tom in, and he took his seat on the witness stand. Roses, he thought, not allowing himself to look in her direction. She smelled like roses, lush and in full bloom.

Smith, in a forgettable brown suit that matched his equally forgettable name, asked Tom all the usual questions—how he had been brought in on the case, where the leads had taken the investigation, how he had determined that the accused was guilty of the crime, how the arrest had gone down, what the accused had said during questioning.

It was cut-and-dried, really. He had to keep from yawning.

Satisfied, Smith said, “Your witness,” and returned to his seat.

The defense lawyer didn’t do anything for a moment. He continued to sit at his table, reviewing his notes. This was a tactic Tom had seen countless times, and he wasn’t about to let the man unnerve him. He waited. Patiently.

“Counsel, your witness,” Judge Jennings said, an edge in her voice. Tom almost smiled at that. She was not as patient as she’d seemed.

Then the defense lawyer stood. He took his time organizing his space, taking a drink—every piddling little thing a lawyer could do to stall.

“Today, Counselor,” Judge Jennings snapped.

She got a lawyer’s smile for that one before Lasky said, “Of course, Your Honor. Agent Yellow Bird, where were you on the evening of April twenty-seventh, the day you were supposedly tracing the bills stolen from the American State Bank of Pierre?”

The way he said it—drawing out the Yellow Bird part and hitting the supposedly with extra punch—did nothing to improve Tom’s opinion of the man. If this guy was trying to make Tom’s Lakota heritage an issue, he was in for a rude awakening.

Still, Tom was under oath and he responded, “I was off duty,” in a level voice. This wasn’t his first time on the stand. He knew how this gotcha game was played, and he wasn’t going to give this jerk anything to build off.

“Doing what?” That smile again.

Tom let the question linger in the air just long enough. Smith roused out of his stunned stupor and shouted, “Objection, Your Honor! What Agent Yellow Bird does in his free time is of no importance to this court.”

The defense attorney turned his attention to the judge, that oily smile at full power. “Your Honor, I intend to show that what Agent Yellow Bird does on his own time directly compromises his ability to do his job.”

What a load of bull. That perp was guilty of robbing a bank, and his defense team was throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the prosecutor’s witnesses in an effort to throw the trial. Tom knew it, the prosecutor knew it and the defense attorney definitely knew it.

But none of that mattered. All that mattered was the opinion of Judge Caroline Jennings. She cleared her throat, which made Tom look at her. Then she leaned forward, elbows on her desk. “How so, Counselor?”

“Your Honor?”

“You’re obviously building toward something. My time is valuable—as is yours, I assume. Someone’s paying the bills, right?”

It took everything Tom had not to burst out laughing at that—but he kept all facial muscles on complete lockdown.

The defense lawyer tried to smile, but Tom could tell the man was losing his grip. Clearly, he’d expected Judge Jennings to be an easy mark. “If I could ask the question, I’d be able to demonstrate—”

“Because it sounds like you’re fishing,” Judge Jennings interrupted. “What illegal activity are you going to accuse Agent Yellow Bird of?” She turned her attention to Tom and there it was again—that pull. “Any crimes you’d like to admit to, just to save us all the time?”

Tom notched an eyebrow at her, unable to keep his lips from twitching. “Your Honor, the only crime I’m guilty of is occasionally driving too fast.”

Something changed in her eyes—deepened. He hoped like hell it was appreciation. All he knew was that he appreciated that look. “Yes,” she murmured, her soft voice pouring oil on the fire that was racing through his body. “South Dakota seems made for speeding.”

Oh, hell, yeah—he’d like to gun his engine and let it run right about now.

She turned her attention back to the attorney. “Are you going to make the argument that violating speed limits compromises an FBI agent’s ability to investigate a crime?”

“Prostitutes!” the flustered lawyer yelled, waving a manila envelope around in the air. “He patronizes prostitutes!”

An absolute hush fell over the courtroom—which was saying something, as it hadn’t been loud to begin with.

Shit. How had this slimeball found out about that?

“Your Honor!” Smith shot out of his chair, moving with more animation than Tom would have given him credit for. “That has nothing to do with a bank robbery!”

This was ridiculous, but Tom knew how this game was played. If he displayed irritation or looked nervous, it’d make him look shifty—which was exactly what the defense wanted. So he did—and said—nothing. Not a damn thing.

But his jaw flexed. He was not ashamed of his after-hours activities, but if Judge Jennings let this line of questioning go on, it could compromise some of his girls—and those girls had been compromised enough.

“That’s a serious accusation,” Judge Jennings said in a voice that was so cold it dropped the temperature in the courtroom a whole ten degrees. “I assume you have proof?”

“Proof?” the lawyer repeated and waved the manila envelope in the air. “Of course I have proof. I wouldn’t waste the court’s valuable time if I couldn’t back it up.”

“Let me see.”

The defense lawyer paused—which proved to be his undoing.

Judge Jennings narrowed her gaze and said, “Counselor Lasky, if you have evidence that Agent Yellow Bird patronizes prostitutes—and that somehow compromises his ability to trace stolen bills—I’d suggest you produce it within the next five seconds or I will hold you in contempt of this court. Care to start a tab at five hundred dollars?”

Not that Tom would admit this in a court of law, but Caroline Jennings had just taken that spark of attraction and fanned it into a full-fledged flame of desire, because the woman was amazing. Simply amazing.

Lasky only hesitated for a second before he strode forward and handed the manila envelope over to Judge Jennings. She pulled out what looked to be some grainy photos. Tom guessed they’d been pulled from a security camera, but at this angle he couldn’t see who was in the pictures or where they might have been taken.

He knew what they weren’t pictures of—him in flagrante delicto with hookers. Having dinner with hookers, maybe. He did that all the time. But last he checked, buying a girl dinner wasn’t illegal.

Even so, that the defense lawyer had the pictures was not good. Tom had a responsibility to those girls and his tribe. But more than that, he had an obligation to the FBI to make sure that what he did when he was off the clock didn’t compromise the pursuit of justice. And if Judge Jennings let this line of questioning go on, Tom’s time at the truck stops would be fair game for every single defense attorney in the state. Hell, even if this criminal wasn’t found guilty, another defense lawyer would try the same line of attack, hoping to be more successful.

“Your Honor,” Smith finally piped up into the silence, “this entire line of questioning is irrelevant to the case at hand. For all the court knows, he was meeting with informants!”

Not helping, Tom thought darkly, although again, he didn’t react. If people suspected those girls were turning informant, they’d be in even more danger.

Judge Jennings ignored Smith. “Mr. Lasky, as far as I can tell, this is proof that Agent Yellow Bird eats meals with other people.”

“Who are known prostitutes!” Lasky crowed, aiming for conviction but nailing desperation instead.

Smith started to object again, but Judge Jennings raised a hand to cut him off. “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? He ate—” She turned to face Tom and held out a photo. “Is this dinner or lunch?”

Tom recognized the Crossroads truck stop immediately—that was Jeannie. “Dinner.”

“He ate dinner with a woman? Did she launder the stolen money? Drive the getaway car? Was she the inside woman?”

“Well—no,” Lasky sputtered. “She doesn’t have anything to do with this case!” The second the words left his mouth, he realized what he’d said, and his entire face crumpled in defeat.

“You’ve got that right.” Amazingly, Judge Jennings sounded more disappointed than anything else, as if she’d expected Lasky to put up a better fight. “Anything else you have to add?”

Lasky slumped and shook his head.

“Your Honor,” Smith said, relief all over his face, “move to strike the defense’s comments from the record.”

“Granted.” She fixed a steely gaze on Lasky.

Tom realized he’d never seen such a woman as Judge Jennings—especially not one for whom he’d felt that spark. He wanted nothing more than to chase that fire, keep fanning those flames. Stephanie would have wanted him to move on—he knew that. But no one else had ever caught his attention like this, and he wasn’t going to settle for anything less than everything. So he’d stayed faithful to his late wife and focused on his job.

Except for now. Except for Caroling Jennings.

There was one problem with this unreasonable attraction.

She was his next assignment. Damn it.

“Agent Yellow Bird, you may step down,” she said to him.

Tom made damn sure to keep his movements calm and even. He didn’t gloat and he didn’t strut. Looking like he’d gotten away with something would undermine his position of authority, so he stood straight and tall and, without sparing a glance for the defense attorney or his client, Tom walked out of the courtroom.

There. His work on the bank robbery case was done. Which meant one thing and one thing only.

Caroline Jennings was now his sole focus.

He was looking forward to this.